The Secret to a Healthy Mind and Body: Balancing Analog and Digital

It’s challenging in today’s Internet and computer-driven world to resist the lure of the all-things-digital siren. Yet believe it or not, great work was produced in the past without any of these devices or capabilities.

I confess to being drawn to digital things, but I’ve evolved to thinking that it’s not healthy for body or mind to be fully assimilated into a digital life. We need balance in our lives, be it work versus play, sleep versus produce, balance in what we eat, drink, etc. What tools we choose will greatly impact our physical and mental health down the road.

I’ve had a few bouts of carpal tunnel issues, back issues from being sedentary too many years, and feeling lost when either the power goes out or my Internet connection goes down. I can connect these maladies to depending too much on digital. In the early days when the ‘net connection dropped, I’d struggle to figure out what to do with my time. Can’t check email? Can’t work on the report? It was an odd, suspended animation feeling for those few hours of seperation from my digital umbilical cord.

Today I strive daily to mix more analog activities into my digital life. I no longer look at Internet-connection loss as a problem, but a fresh opportunity to add analog solutions and move my body more.

To get you started, here are seven analog alternatives and their positive benefits, including one hybrid, that all help maintain a healthier analog-digital balance.

    1. Talk to people. Yes, it’s still possible to have a conversation in person! The silliest thing I experience at work in the cubicle farm are those folks who email, IM, or call me even though they’re less than 20′ away in another cube. The digital communication devices are great for distance, but not only do you foster a better relationship with someone via face-to-face interactions, getting up is an opportunity to get your butt out of the chair and move.
    2. Write your first draft (for any purpose) with pen/pencil on paper. Two things will happen: a) you will move your hand and arm in different motions that counter the strain of mousing with a computer, and b) your thoughts slow down because your hand has to keep up with your thoughts, and if you’re like me, your thoughts will perform little rewrite dances while waiting for the hand to catch up. My drafts on paper are always at least 1/2 to a full draft version better than what I pump out on the computer. And as a bonus, this method is universally transportable, dependent on nothing beyond remembering to keep the notebook and pen/pencil with you.
    3. Keep tasks and project lists on paper. Sure, lots of great digital tools out there for this need, but like the draft writing, using pen/pencil with paper slows down your thinking and better results can occur. Plus a small notebook does not require syncing with other devices to be available wherever you are.
    4. Keep a journal(s). Instead of digitally storing your ideas gleaned from reading, or daily thoughts, or anything else you might want to write at length about, use paper journals. Journals have always been the idea collector of preference for many well-known writers from Hemingway to Proulx, and I rarely bump into a writer who either is keeping or has kept journals at some time. Some will counter that a digital journal is searchable, but to a degree so is a paper one. I typically have a contents page at the front of a journal that can get me in the neighborhood when finding something, but nothing beats the value of serendipity when browsing back through journal entries. While there are a plethora of apps for journaling, a paper journal is an independent tool than never fails you (unless you forget to carry it with you!), and they come in all sizes and shapes to fit most any need.


  1. Read a physical book. Yes, these still exist! I will add the disclaimer that I have a Kindle and use Kindle and iBooks on my iPad and read with both devices, but that’s typically when traveling or during digital writing sessions when I force a break in the writing to work a different part of my mind. But my bedside and reading chair tables always have a pile of real books I’m working through. And I strive to read (via physical book) at least one hour per day.
  2. Take a walk to think through a project issue or other challenge. I take a hybrid approach to this activity by taking my iPhone on walks and if something useful comes up, I use the Audio Memo app to record my thoughts. I then listen later and typically write them down using an analog tool.
  3. Create two work zones: one analog, one digital. In my mind, your desk with a computer is there for you to use when the task is appropriate for digital tools and not otherwise, and provides too great a temptation when trying do something analog. I just finished reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (recommended reading). One excellent takeaway was his use of two desks: one digital, one analog. I do that in spirit, but the idea of dedicated work zones is highly intriquing. Today I’m going to set up two zones to encourage more analog activities. Per Austin, one hardfast rule is nothing electronic is allowed in the analog zone. The hidden value is you can’t be distracted by incoming email so easily if you’re not sitting in front of your monitor. The obvious value is working both left and right sides of the brain via conditioning your behavior to use the analog station for creative play and idea nurturing, and when ready, move over to the digital station for executing, producing, or publishing.

How many of these do you do now? Humans need a mix of activities and moderation in all things to stay mentally and physically healthy. The benefit that encourages me the most is my creative needs are liberated from dependency on others such as Apple, TimeWarner Cable, the electric company, or Verizon.

Try shifting some of your activities from digital to analog. I think your body and mind will thank you in the years to come.